- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Before yesterday’s home opener, the Washington Nationals issued a memo detailing items that cannot be brought into the stadium this season.

That list included the following notation: “Bats may not be brought into the stadium.”

The Nationals offense took that notice seriously: The Nationals managed just three hits in a 7-1 loss to the Mets.

The crowd of 40,530 — nearly 6,000 short of a sellout — must have gotten a memo that included a ban on enthusiasm, though, in fairness, the home team didn’t give them much to cheer.

The highlight of the day was the singing of the national anthem by Placido Domingo. It was downhill from there.

Vice President Dick Cheney was booed from the time he walked to the mound, bounced the ceremonial first pitch to Brian Schneider and walked off the field. That was the most life the RFK crowd showed all day.

The moveable stands along left field never bounced to the beat of a Nationals rally — the signature highlight from RFK last year — because there never was one. It was a sharp contrast to last season’s wondrous opening night at home, a tough act to follow.

“They didn’t have anything to get rowdy about,” manager Frank Robinson said. “One hit here, one hit there, three hits for the game.”

That is just one hit shy of tying the Nationals’ weakest offensive output from last year, a two-hit performance against the Cardinals on Aug. 27.

And it wasn’t as if they were facing Pedro Martinez. The Jim Bowden-reconstructed Nationals offense managed just three hits over seven innings off rookie Brian Bannister, who was making just his second major league start. Bannister’s first start came last week against the Nationals, who managed two hits against him in six innings.

The loss leaves Washington with a 2-6 record. When the Nationals went 81-81 last season, they were never more than one game under .500 at any time during the season.

“It is a long, long season, and funny things happen over the course of a season,” Robinson said. “What you have to do is focus on getting to .500. You don’t want to get too far behind, because we’re going to have a good streak, and you don’t want to be buried too far behind, because that does you no good. When you have a good streak, you want to be able to benefit from it.”

If they don’t fix whatever’s wrong soon, they could be out of the race by the time they have an owner. That, said baseball’s chief operating officer, Bob DuPuy, should be within two weeks. The Nationals could be .500 by then. Or they could be 4-12 when the winning bid group, which will have to pay about $450 million for this franchise, is announced.

That decision still appears likely to be forged out of a merger of existing bidders. The favorites remain the Lerner family, Jeff Smuylan’s group and the Washington Baseball Club, led by Jeff Zients and Fred Malek. The buzz has Lerner aligning with former Atlanta sports executive Stan Kasten.

It might not be as much fun to own a team this season as it would have been last year.

Meanwhile, the club perhaps will revise its policy and allow the players to bring their bats tonight because they will need them against Pedro Martinez. Body armor might be a good idea, too. Pedro hit three Nationals batters at Shea Stadium last week, nailing Jose Guillen twice, the second of which sent Guillen toward the mound waving his bat.

The umpires have met with both Robinson and Mets manager Willie Randolph to let them know there is a zero tolerance policy in effect, meaning warnings have been issued and immediate ejections will be made if the umpires feel they are needed.

“If you are going out there and worried about Pedro and this, that or the other thing, you’re not going to focus on what you are doing,” Robinson said. “We know Pedro Martinez. He is a very good pitcher. You have to bear down against him to have some success. That is what you have to do. You can’t let anything else play into this.”

Or else you could do this: Nail him. Remarkably, through all the years of his headhunting, Pedro has remained pretty much unscathed. He has been hit by a pitch just three times in 334 career at-bats, even though he has plunked 122 batters. For once, carry out the sentence against the perpetrator.

That likely would mean the ejection of Nationals starter Tony Armas Jr. But that would occur in the third inning if the Nationals are lucky, and how long would Armas last anyway? It may set off a beanball war, but it also deals with the heart of the problem. Or do the Nationals want Pedro to be their “Daddy” all year?

“The umpires control the game,” Robinson said. But when Pedro pitches, he controls the game. So take that control away by nailing him and nailing him good.

That will get the stands bouncing. And the new owners can pay the fines.

Got a question about the Nats? Mark Zuckerman has the answers. To submit a question, go to the Sports Page

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